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Oct. 5, 2020 by Darya Minovi

We Need to Better Protect Communities from the Climate Crisis, COVID-19, and Wildfires

Amidst the president and First Lady testing positive for COVID-19, an embarrassing spectacle of a presidential "debate," and a pandemic that has now claimed more than 200,000 lives in the United States and 1 million worldwide, the West Coast wildfires have lost the attention of the national news cycle. But California and nearby states are still very much ablaze.

As I write, 70 active large fires are raging in 10 western states. More than a third of these are in California, where more than 2 million acres of land are currently burning (an area larger than the state of Delaware). Four of the five largest fires in the state’s history started in the last two months.

These historic fires have already killed at least 35 people, forced thousands to evacuate, and exposed hundreds of thousands to extremely hazardous levels of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standard, or maximum safe exposure level, for PM2.5 is 35 ug/m3 (averaged over a 24-hour period). On one particularly smoky day, PM2.5 concentrations near Mammoth Lakes, California, reached 660 ug/m3, nearly 19 times greater than …

Sept. 24, 2020 by James Goodwin
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An underappreciated side effect of the modern conservative movement now epitomized by Trumpism is its dogged pursuit of any legal argument to support “the cause,” no matter how ridiculous or specious. Long-settled questions like nondelegation and the constitutionality of independent regulatory agencies are suddenly, if bizarrely, up for grabs again. Add to this list a new line of argument – now germinating like a mushroom spore in horse manure – that posits that citizen suit provisions, such as those included in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, are unconstitutional infringements upon the so-called unitary executive.

Earlier this month CPR Member Scholar Joel Mintz demolished this argument in a pair of posts published here. In this post, I want to move the ball forward and argue that citizen suits offer an essential opportunity for public engagement in regulatory implementation and thus should be extended universally across the entire …

Sept. 22, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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With Sen. Mitt Romney’s announcement this morning that he would support consideration of a nominee before the election, it now seems virtually certain that President Trump will be able to appoint a sixth conservative justice. How will that affect future climate policy? Here is a preliminary threat assessment.

The answer varies, depending on what policies we’re talking about. Overall, the implications of a 6-3 Court are bad. But they’re probably not as dire for environmental law as for other issues like racial equality or reproductive rights.

As a quick preliminary take on this, I’ll sort heightened legal risks of climate actions into high, medium, low, and wildcard. The wildcard risks actually worry me the most.

High Risk

Innovative regulations like Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Regulations by EPA that use existing statutory …

Sept. 17, 2020 by Joel Mintz, Victor Flatt
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This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of worrisome and needless regulatory relaxations that have increased pollution across the United States. Recent reporting by the Associated Press and other outlets has documented more than 3,000 pandemic-based requests from polluters to state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for waivers of environmental requirements. Numerous state governments, with the tacit encouragement of the EPA, went along with many of those requests. All too often, those waivers — requested, ostensibly, to protect American workers from exposure to the coronavirus — were granted with little or no review, notwithstanding the risks the resulting emissions posed to public health and the environment.

EPA invited this wave of waivers back in March, announcing it would relax its enforcement upon request, under cover of …

Sept. 16, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed was originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

"I'm not convinced it's real. I think it's nothing more than the flu. If I die from the virus, it was just meant to be," Thomas Seale, an attendee at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally, reportedly said of COVID-19.

An estimated 460,000 people who love motorcycle culture and the company of like-minded people attended the huge rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, population 7,000, for 10 days in August 2020. They rode around, had races, attended bike shows and concerts, and drank beer. Face masks were rare.

People told New York Times reporter Mark Walker about the core importance of the event: they met their spouses at earlier rallies, referred to their fellow participants as family, or had attended the rally for decades. When asked about the pandemic, the attendees explained they were not …

Sept. 15, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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This is the second post of a two-part set. Click to read Part I.

As I noted in a previous post, the pending case of United States v. DTE Energy, Inc. tacitly raises issues concerning the constitutionality of both Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and the citizen suit provisions of environmental laws. This second post considers another constitutional issue that may emerge in the DTE Energy litigation: whether SEP agreements – and citizen suits more generally – interfere with a “core executive function” of the president and executive branch and longstanding constitutional notions of separation of powers. To resolve that question soundly, one must look to the text of the Constitution itself, the Federalist Papers, and the relevant body of law that the lower federal courts have already developed.

Notably, neither the Constitution nor the Federalist Papers provide a clear indication of what constitutes a “core executive function” or the …

Sept. 14, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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This is the first post of a two-part set. Click to read Part II.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has shown increasing hostility to the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in settlements of federal environmental enforcement cases. Aside from a series of ever-tightening SEP policies, however, DOJ has never asserted in court that these projects are unconstitutional. At least not yet.

In a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, United States v. DTE Energy, Inc., the constitutionality of both SEPs and citizen suits in general may soon be at issue. The case began as a typical New Source Review matter in the Obama administration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Justice Department to sue DTE on the grounds that equipment updates to some of the company's electric generating …

Sept. 8, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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This commentary is included in the September/October 2020 edition of "The Debate," a section of The Environmental Forum. It was originally published by the Environmental Law Institute and is reprinted here with permission.

As the country prays for relief from the global pandemic, what have we learned that could help us protect the environment better? Most alarming, I would argue, are COVID-19's revelations about the power of conspiracy theories and the antipathy they generate toward scientific experts.

Take "America's Doctor" and the dark rumors percolating on right-wing websites. Anthony Fauci is a "Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge." He was paid off to the tune of $100 million by Bill Gates, who has invested heavily in the develop­ment of vaccines for COVID-19 and corruptly opposes chloroquine, a life-saving cure. The genesis of the pandemic was a Chinese virology lab, where scientists deliberately cre­ated …

Sept. 1, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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Writing in The Hill this week, CPR's Bill Buzbee and Mažeika Patricio Sullivan expand on a point they and their co-authors on an important article in Science magazine last month made ably: The Trump administration is running roughshod over science and law in its efforts to deregulate.

Their Science article focused on the administration's gutting of Obama era protections for the nation's waterways, and in particular, the ways EPA had ignored compelling scientific evidence of the harm their rule rewriting would do. In their new op-ed in The Hill, Buzbee and Sullivan lay out their case on waterways, and go on to observe that the administration took a similar science-blind, law-ignored approach in other recent rulemakings. They write:

This month’s methane rollback for the oil and gas sector similarly used questionable data and science, also raising new legal hurdles for future regulation. The Trump administration recently …

Aug. 27, 2020 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho
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This commentary was originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

Throughout his time in office, President Donald J. Trump has boasted about cutting regulations.

His antagonism to environmental regulation has been particularly virulent and incessant. By one count, Trump Administration agencies have initiated or completed 100 environmental rollbacks. By thwarting often bipartisan legislative environmental protection goals adopted over the course of 50 years, President Trump's actions create serious threats to public health and environmental integrity. The Administration's suppression of public participation in regulatory decision-making has also undercut the ability of people and communities harmed by the Administration's deregulatory frenzy to protect themselves.

These anti-environmental and anti-democratic practices converged in the Administration's recent revisions to the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Often referred to as the Magna Carta of U.S. environmental law, NEPA has two main goals …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Oct. 5, 2020

We Need to Better Protect Communities from the Climate Crisis, COVID-19, and Wildfires

Sept. 24, 2020

Citizen Suits Are Good for the Regulatory System, and We Need More of Them

Sept. 22, 2020

Fighting Global Warming in a Chilly Judicial Climate

Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 15, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

Sept. 14, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I